London - Maria Sharapova would have done well not to have watched Serena
Williams out-slug Victoria Azarenka in a Wimbledon quarter-final of
extraordinary quality on Wednesday.
The Russian fourth seed is blocking Williams' path to an eighth Wimbledon
final and judging by the way the American bludgeoned her way past Azarenka
after losing the first set, she will need to reinforce the barricades with
everything at her disposal, then hope the 33-year-old has an off day.
For all her pre-programmed on-court positivity, Sharapova has become a punch
bag for Williams since 2004, the year she stunned the tennis world by beating
the American to the Wimbledon title.
She beat her again that year but since then her 0-16 record is a depressing
tale of woe.
No wonder Williams is looking forward to Thursday's Centre Court date
against a player with whom her relationship is, at best, professionally
"I love playing Maria. I think she brings out the best in me," the
33-year-old said, without a hint of irony, after a 3-6 6-2 6-3 defeat of former
world number one Azarenka - a match in which a supreme Williams produced 47
winners, including 17 aces, and only 12 unforced errors.
Williams avoids talking about the possibility of a calendar-year grand slam
but with the Australian and French Opens already secured and just two more wins
required to clinch the third leg of the sport's ultimate feat, she knows she
will never have another opportunity like this.
And the last person she would want to deny her the chance, one imagines, is
She has only conceded one set to the Russian in five years.
The last time they met on the Centre Court grass, in the final of the London
2012 Olympics, Sharapova managed only one game, and while subsequent meetings
have been closer, whatever she throws at the American, however much she
ratchets up the volume, it gets returned with interest, and a often a glare.
At least Sharapova has that 2004 triumph in the memory bank.
"I haven't seen my name on the trophy in a while," she told
reporters after struggling past unseeded Coco Vandeweghe on Tuesday. "I
know it's there but I would love to check it out again to make sure it's still
there. That would be nice."
With Williams on a 26-match winning streak in grand slam play and her game
in rude health it is unlikely she will be getting a close look at it this year.
Waiting in the final for the victor will be either Poland's Agnieszka
Radwanska, who Williams beat to win her fifth and last Wimbledon title in 2012,
or Spain's 20th-ranked Garbine Muguruza.